Scientists say mystery space object could be alien spacecraft

An artist's depiction of Oumuamua the first detected interstellar object

An artist's depiction of Oumuamua the first detected interstellar object

A mysterious cigar-shaped object that flew past Earth could have been an alien spacecraft sent to survey other galaxies, according to Harvard University researchers.

The object was discovered past year with the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope atop Haleakalā on Maui and was given the Hawaiian name ʻOumuamua, meaning 'a messenger from afar arriving first'.

Since scientists are not able to explain the unusual features of a celestial body and its origin, giving it finally a new class of "interstellar objects".

"Alternatively, a more exotic scenario is that Oumuamua may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization". Given the name "Oumuamua" - which means messenger from afar arriving first, or scout, in Hawaiian - the object is believed to be the first interstellar visitor to our solar system. It's the first interstellar object mankind has ever seen, and it's sparked a ton of debate over its origins and what exactly it was.

Light sail technology has already been developed by scientists here on Earth, such as Japan's IKAROS project and the Starshot Initiative, the authors write.

Similar to how a sailing boat uses the wind in its sail to push it forward, a spacecraft with a light sail uses the light from a nearby star to propel it, with radiation pressure exerting a tiny amount of force.

In the paper, the pair theorize that the object's high speed and its unusual trajectory could be the result of it no longer being operational.

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"Considering an artificial origin, one possibility is that "Oumuamua" is a lightsail, floating in interstellar space as a debris from an advanced technological equipment", the team of researchers wrote in their paper.

"I am distinctly unconvinced and honestly think the study is rather flawed", Alan Jackson, fellow at the Centre for Planetary Sciences at the University of Toronto Scarborough, told CNN. Also confusing: When Oumuamua was closest to the sun, it didn't break apart like a comet would amid the heat and display a telltale tail. In order for it to be effective, Oumuamua needs to be less than a millimeter in thickness, like a sail.

In a letter published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters on 12 November, the researchers add that Oumuamua could be a spacecraft pushed along by light falling on its surface.

Oumuamua has left our solar system and is no longer capable of being seen - but as Loeb points out, the existence of Oumuamua suggests there are others like it yet to be found.

In December 2017 it was announced the astronomers were going to scan Oumuamua for signs of alien life.

Astronomers were baffled, eventually settling on the term "interstellar object", the Washington Post reported.

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